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Books Review: Just and Unjust Wars and The Origins of the Second World War

Books Review: Just and Unjust Wars and The Origins of the Second World War


Wars have always been a polarizing subject, with some people being able to justify them while others remaining eternally against the idea that greater good could be achieved through so much violence and death. The books Just and Unjust Wars by Michael Walzer and The Origins of the Second World War A.J.P Taylor look into the subject of war from different perspectives. In Just and Unjust Wars Michael Walzer addresses the moral component of war in a bid to hypothesize the situations within which a war could be for the greater good. In his discourse, Walzer (2006) continuously argues for the fact that there are the cases in which the war is the only way to gain peace. It is often a tough sell for one to claim that lives have to be lost for the world to be a better place. If one is to consider all lives as equal, it will be very hard to justify the sacrifice of soldiers and civilians alike in the wars that are supposedly meant to create peace and make the world a better or safer place. This book considers the dynamics of war within the definitive parameters of justice under the principle of Jus ad Bellum. Jus ad Bellum is a philosophy in which justice is defined in a way that determines the cause, the aim and the process of the war. This definition enables one to identify if the war is just or unjust. A war could be defined by how it is fought, why it is fought or even when it is fought.

On the other hand, in The Origins of the Second World War, Taylor (1963) examines the Second World War as one of the most destructive and definitive wars in world history with interest in how it came into being. In this book, Taylor (1963) is keen on deciphering the conditions precluding the Second World War and thus how Hitler cannot take all the blame as a grand destroyer since his actions were motivated by the impacts of external forces and supported by the German people. Overall, The Origins of the Second World War explores all the aspects that needed to come together neatly to the wage war as big as World War Two. Drawing from the lessons of the Second World War, both Taylor and Walzer reckon that the motivations for going to war are not always clearly defined to the public, even though the leaderships of the warring sides always have definite goals and objectives.


Just and Unjust Wars by Michael Walzer is divided into two parts. In the first part, the author explores the moral reality of war whereby he asserts that the war morality cannot be perceived in relative terms. Walzer (2006) argues that there are common terms with which wars can be defined to qualify their moral ground. Therefore, if a war is considered moral from one side, it must also be seen as such from a different angle. Any relativism applied in the definition of the war is considered in this case irrelevant and thus ineffective in defining the said war.

Under the crime of war, the author argues that there are two critical perspectives, the first one being whether the war is fought justly and the second one whether the war is in itself just (Walzer, 2006). When the war is fought justly, it means that both sides know and adhere to the rules of engagement. Thus, both parties understand the importance of not engaging the noncombatants on either side, and the fighting is conducted with respect to the peaceful individuals. Agreements such as this in a battle mean that while enemy soldiers consider each other to be on the opposing sides of the war, they still have the courtesy to respect each other and look at one another humanely if they are not armed. A truce of this nature would prevent soldiers from killing unarmed persons regardless of the contexts of the war. A just war is, in this case, determined by the manner in which the soldiers conduct themselves. For example, the ongoing war against Syria would be considered unjust because of the number of villages that are being destroyed and thus the number of unarmed people that end up losing their lives and limbs in the confrontation. On whether the war is in itself just, Walzer (2006) discusses the motivation for it. Walzer mainly states that it is not right to initiate a war especially when there are many other alternatives for conflict resolution thus whoever starts a war is in the wrong, although there are some extenuating circumstances within which one would be justified to initiate the hostility (Walzer, 2006). The second part of this book is about the theory of aggression with a focus on the contexts within which a war may be just regarding causality. Walzer in this part considers that aggression is possibly the only reason that could make war justifiable.

In The Origins of the Second World War, the main premise is the cause of the Second World War, particularly in respect to Hitler’s indulgences, his goals and the support that he was able to obtain from his people, especially with regards to his invasion. According to Taylor (1963), the Second World War was not an intentional orchestration of Hitler’s ambitions. By contrast, Taylor (1963) systematically unpacks and analyzes many accepted truths as related to the armed conflict and finds that most of the information that is made public regarding how the war unfolded was manipulated to portray Hitler as a psychopathic devil with a lot of ill motivations that were not meant to favor anyone but himself. The only first act of war that Hitler can be blamed for, according to Taylor, is destroying the Treaty of Versailles which in this case did not qualify as the start of the Second World War. In the end, this author simply states that Hitler was not fully responsible for the Second World War and that all the major powers that participated provoked him instead.

Furthermore, Taylor (1963) focuses on the period before Nazi Germany invaded Poland where there was much activity in terms of the international scene. It is easy to blame Hitler for the outcomes of his actions and their role in escalating the global conflict, but other factors also played out to lead him to the invasion of Poland as Taylor points out. The rest of the world was engulfed in the act of conquests for political and economic interests thus prompting Germany to consolidate its powers within its neighborhood to avoid interference from France and the Soviet Union. These external powers gradually and deliberately posed a threat to Germany’s sovereignty, especially with their interference in Poland thus prompting Hitler to seek control over this neighboring state as well. Anything that happened after the Poland Invasion is considered a part of Hitler’s evil scheme which is, in reality, non-existent. Taylor shows that Hitler’s action was no different from those of Britain, France and the US, as well as Russia. The only difference is that there were multiple great powers involved in Poland thus the escalation of the conflict that could have been resolved in subtlety.


These two books are more or less complementary in their arguments. Just and Unjust Wars focuses on defining a war as either just or unjust based on how and why it is fought while The Origins of the Second World War simply sets out to explain how the Second World War started. In comparing the two books, many aspects stand out. To begin with, it is very clear that the Second World War was unjust on both grounds of why it was fought and how it was fought.

The Why Factor

The Why aspect in the Second World War is often considerably blurry at best seeing as most historical analyses only start at the Invasion of Poland without paying attention to the prelude of this invasion and how Hitler was actually pushed into the situation that would later cause the war. France and the Soviet Union were meddling in Germany’s neighborhood as they sought to expand their overseas territories for economic and political gain. The 1930’s were still the colonial era, and countries in Europe were consistently trying to expand their political agenda and thus further their economic ambitions driven by untamed capitalist ideologies (Taylor, 1963). Taylor (1963) also argues that to prevent this conquest from threatening the safety and sovereignty of its people, Germany had to invade Poland and thus keep this neighboring nation within German control as the Soviets as well as France were too close for comfort at the time. Germany’s move to take on Poland is in many ways similar to what countries like France and Britain were doing even in the far-flung places like Africa. Using Walzer’s (2006) argument, one will note that the intention of the invasion of Poland was not purely unjust. Germany did not want to become a colony, and thus the only alternative that they had was to keep the greater powers as far from their borders as possible. If Poland had agreed to work with Germany and keep the Russians and French off, then there would have been the possibility for the situation not to escalate.

In this case, Poland, as well as Russia and France which influenced the former, are responsible for starting the war through their aggression. Aggression, in this instance, did not have to be in the form of physical combat. The Germans were in numerous ways simply trying to remain independent at the time when the rest of Europe and the US were scrambling for territories that they did not originally own. Thus, regardless of how this war escalated, The Why is not blamed solely on Hitler. The underlying causes of the war from Hitler’s point become subtly justifiable while the involvement of France and the USSR among other external players makes the full engagement unjustifiable. Germany may have invaded Poland with a real motivation owing to Poland’s vulnerability and the fact that this nation was rather too welcoming to the foreign powers that could easily use Poland as a stage for an attack on Germany’s sovereignty.

The How Factor

Taylor points out that as the Second World War escalated, the soldiers did not separate humanity from the battlefield. There still are remnants of hostility between the forces that fought in the war since there was no emphasis on the fact that other than being enemy combatants these soldiers were also human beings with feelings and families. Thus soldiers were often ambushed and killed even when unarmed. Similarly, the war saw many villages being raided and thus a lot of civilian lives being lost. In Walzer’s (2006) view, killing people who are not directly involved in the combat makes the war unjust. Therefore, regardless of what was going on with Germany or any of the other countries involved in the Second World War, and regardless of who started the aggression, it remains evident that the war was not fought on a just and fair ground. The people who died from explosions, diseases, and even hunger were all casualties of the war that should not have involved them. Walzer’s (2006) definition of a just war on the basis of how it is fought strictly states that noncombatants must be kept away from the combat scenes for no civilian lives to be lost. Taylor, on the other hand, narrates how wrong the Second World War was even for the noncombatants, most of whom barely survived considering how many dangers they had to live through. In this way, both books agree because the Second World War was an unjust and unfair war not just for the soldiers and the governments but also for the civilians on all sides.


Just and Unjust Wars and The Origins of the Second World War are similar in the sense that they both discuss the concept of war, with the first book proving insightful for the reader when exploring the second one. The facts that are clearly presented by Walzer on when a war is just can be used to back Taylor on his argument that Hitler did not necessarily fire the first shot in a theoretical context. Taylor argues that Hitler was merely reacting to the circumstances within which he was forced to operate. According to Walzer, the aggression originated from the European powers that placed Germany in a defensive position. Hitler did not want Germany to be another colony and thus took Poland just like France and Britain had been taking nations across the globe as a way to fortify its political and economic defenses. It follows that one would find these two books not only similar in perspective but also complementary, such that one would need to read Walzer’s book in order to appreciate Taylor’s analysis on the events that took place before Nazi Germany invaded Poland hence marking the start of the Second World War. In the end, both books agree that the Second World War was unjust in how it started and in how it played out especially considering the civilians who lost their lives as well.

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